The History of Ashes

She stood and looked at the quilt on the wall. It was covered with symbols in combinations she did not understand: beehives and rainbows and keys, moons and stars, shovels, crowned eyes that looked back at her. One of the hives was upside-down, and as she looked, her glance reached out and fleshed the bees that flew from it, and one by one as they received that fleshing she saw the sound they made – a deep buzz that resonated from the cotton batting and across the cream of the textile square, vibrating out into the next patterned square and tilting a set of twin pillars, which knocked over a yellow cotton candlestick, whose red fabric flames landed in the square below and set fabric fire to a grey-stitched compass there, which burned a calico hole through to the next square over, which lit a second beehive on fire. As the patchwork bees escaped the honeyed pyre, they, too, were fleshed by her gaze and they, too, began to speak to her as a result. Look behind you, they buzzed. Look around you. Look at what’s there. And as she slowly turned away from the fabric conflagration, she saw that she was surrounded by sharp cold things. Metal wrists punctured with stalks that held spiked hands aloft. Sharp leather scythes. Wall-hung wooden letters with slicing razored edges.

She turned back to the bees. We’re burning, they buzzed into her body across the fleshy bridge she had built. Let us out. And as she turned away she picked up one of the hand-staffs and turned back to the quilt and stabbed the metal fingers forward until they tore a hole in the patchwork. Out the cloth bees flew, tiny bursts of red and yellow appliqué that came streaming off the wall and swarmed her face, her neck, finding and covering her black cashmere sweater and crawling over her hair. She peered back at the wall, where the quilt consumed itself in flames of red calico. As she watched, the blanket slowly turned an ash-grey as its moons and stars and rainbows burned.  The last to turn were the eyes, which saw their destruction mirrored in her own. Their flames licked across the flesh of her glance, burning up her pupils in a riot of scarlet velvet, and she turned from the ashen quilt, a bee-covered girl with red fabric eyes. She looked at blue things and green things to try to cool her hot glance. But the bees burned and as they stung they pushed their fabric fire into her blood, stitching her skin like cotton. She took a knife from the wall and picked at the stitches, her ashen stuffing pouring out as she collapsed to the floor. The next people who came to look at the quilt found only soot-colored squares on the wall, and as they left in confusion they tracked footprints full of her across the room, and down the stairs, and out the door.

[To return to The Elizabeths, walk this way.]